Extraordinary live recording of Má vlast (My Homeland) performed by Collegium 1704 released on CD

The recording of the 2021 Prague Spring Festival opening concert, at which Smetana’s Má vlast (My homeland) was performed by the Collegium 1704 orchestra under the baton of Václav Luks, has now been released by the Belgian label Accent, which has been cooperating with the orchestra for a long time.

“We approach Smetana’s legacy with great respect and deep humility for the great Czech tradition of interpretation of this work. Our performance is not a museum reconstruction, but a reminder of the aesthetic ideals of the romantic interpretation of Smetana’s time, which can be an inspiration for contemporary performers and audiences,” says the conductor Václav Luks about the recording.

“This performance of My Homeland left us with immense joy and encouragement, even though the whole project was created in extremely difficult conditions of pandemic measures. The energy of the musicians of the Collegium 1704 orchestra and the tireless research of the founder and the conductor Václav Luks have brought a timeless account of the seemingly familiar and explored work of Bedřich Smetana. The joy of the concert is now enhanced by this audio recording,” said Pavel Trojan, the director of Prague Spring.

The opening concert of Prague Spring 2021 was received with enthusiasm by both the audience and the critics. “No fake romance. Collegium 1704 opened Prague Spring in a groundbreaking way,” wrote music publicist Dita Hradecká for aktualne.cz after the concert.

The opening concert of Prague Spring 2021 was broadcast live by Czech Television and Czech Radio. The recording, which was released on CD with an iconic photograph from the Invasion 68 series by the world-renowned Czech photographer Josef Koudelka, was created in the Smetana Hall of the Municipal House on 12 and 13 May 2021. The music was directed by Markéta Janáčková, and the master of sound was Filip Beneš. The CD will be available in Czech and international distributions, on the websites collegium1704.com and festival.cz, as well as at the Collegium 1704 concerts in the Rudolfinum.

Collegium 1704 opened the new concert season with the thrilling Handel oratorio Israel in Egypt

After successful summer tours around Europe, the baroque orchestra Collegium 1704 returned to its Prague audience. After this year’s exceptionally warm receptions at the prestigious international festival in Besançon, France, and at the domestic St. Wenceslas Music Festival in Ostrava, Handel’s Israel in Egypt made the Prague audience give a thunderous standing ovation.

Israel in Egypt occupies a special place among Handel’s oratorios. Named characters are absent and, unlike the more famous Messiah, it is epic and choral sections predominate.  

“The chorus has the main role in this work, the solo parts are few. The choral parts are extremely dramatic, large, and demanding, not only in terms of coloratura but also when it comes to sustaining phrases. It’s a big challenge, but I believe we will meet it well,” said soprano Helena Hozová, one of the soloists and a member of the ensemble Collegium Vocale 1704, after the rehearsal before the concerts in Besançon and Ostrava. At the Rudolfinum, she was be joined by other soloists, including soprano Tereza Zimková, British countertenor Alex Potter, Spanish tenor Juan Sancho, and basses Tomáš Šelc and Tadeáš Hoza.

In his rendition of the Old Testament exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, which premiered in April 1739, Handel managed to recount the plot through musical means with such intensity, inventiveness, and conviction that the audience was literally breathless. The double-choir concept, the use of trombones, and the choir’s absolutely unheard-of recitative on the words ‘He sent a thick darkness’ contributed to this effect. Another largely experimental field for Handel were the arias, composed not to verse but to a biblical narrative in English. Later he produced only one oratorio set entirely to biblical prose – his Messiah, with a libretto by Charles Jennens based on New Testament texts, was premiered during the composer’s stay in Dublin in April 1742.

The oratorio Israel in Egypt deals exclusively with Old Testament texts. In the first part, a choral epic containing drastic descriptions of the plagues brought upon Egypt, Handel set mostly verses from Old Testament psalms. The second part, in which the Israelites praise the mighty acts of the Lord, is based on the almost complete 15th chapter of Exodus. While composing, Handel made extensive use of whole musical movements or sections from works by earlier composers, Alessandro Stradella, Dionigi Erba, Francesco Uriano, and Johann Kaspar Kerll. From his own works, he reused two keyboard fugues or single movements from Dixit Dominus and from the cantata Armida abbandonata.

Mysliveček’s oratorio Abramo ed Isacco to be performed for the first time at the prestigious Salzburger Festspiele

For the sixth time, Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704 under the direction of conductor Václav Luks will appear at the Salzburger Festspiele. The concert takes place on 23 July 2022 at 6 pm in the Mozarteum’s Great Hall. After works by Bach, Biber, Monteverdi, Stradella, and Zelenka, the ensemble will present a masterpiece by Josef Mysliveček in a Salzburg premiere. Mysliveček’s oratorio Abramo ed Isacco (Abraham and Isaac) will be performed with an outstanding international cast of soloists, including Norwegian soprano Mari Eriksmoen (Isacco), French tenor Mathias Vidal (Abramo), Irish mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy (Sara), German soprano Nikola Hillebrand (Angelo), and her compatriot, baritone Matthias Winckhler (Gamari).

Václav Luks, conductor and artistic director of the orchestra, comments on the performance: “I am delighted that after a number of performances with world repertoire, we have managed to introduce a purely Czech programme into the Salzburg Festival’s dramaturgy. The fact that Josef Mysliveček’s most famous oratorio will be performed is also of special significance in relation to the planned premiere of Il Boemo, a film about the life of the composer which was made in close cooperation with Collegium 1704.”

The oratorio Abramo ed Isacco (Abraham and Isaac), originally titled Isacco, figura del redentore (Isaac, figure of the saviour), is Mysliveček’s last oratorio and represents one of the absolute highlights of his entire oeuvre. It premiered in Florence in 1776 and the following year was performed in Munich, at the court of the music-loving Elector Maximilian III. Joseph. At the Salzburg Festival, it will be presented as part of a concert series entitled Ouverture spirituelle.

According to surviving documentation, Mysliveček composed eight oratorios over a period of seven years; complete scores are available for only four of them. Collegium 1704 has so far performed the Easter oratorio La Passione di Gesù Cristo to great acclaim, as part of the Prague Spring Festival in 2013.

Václav Luks Receives French Award for Service to Culture

Collegium 1704 conductor and artistic director Václav Luks received the Order of Arts and Letters (Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) with the rank of Knight from Ambassador Alexis Dutertre during a ceremony at the French Embassy in Prague on 21 June 2022. The Order is conferred by the French Minister for Culture for distinguished services in the field of culture, arts, and literature.

Václav Luks has a number of unique achievements in the interpretation of French musical repertoire. For instance, with Collegium 1704, he made the second-ever complete recording of Rameau’s opera Les Boréades, which won the prestigious awards Trophées 2021 and Edison 2021 for the Opera Recording of the Year.

In the past, the Order of Arts and Letters has been conferred on a number of prominent personalities who connect Czech and French culture, such as mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená, composer Petr Eben, director Jiří Menzel, and former president and playwright Václav Havel. More recent recipients include photographer Libuše Jarcovjáková, director Andrea Sedláčková, and illustrator Lucie Lomová.

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